Parents, teachers rally against school closures

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Ackisha Williams’ 4-year-old son has a great relationship with most of the teachers at Robert Emmet Elementary School.

Students like her son build these relationships for the almost 10 years they attend Emmet, said Williams, who is also a teacher at the school. And this is one reason why she and a number of other community members say they do not want the school to close.

A small group of Emmet-affiliated parents, community organizers and teachers held a press conference in front of the Austin High School campus, 243 N. Pine, Monday to argue reasons why the school should stay open.

The official proposal to close Emmet came last month, but the full Chicago Board of Education will vote to either approve or reject the action May 22.

Williams said the school has a sense of family, as many neighborhood residents, their parents and their children have attended Emmet. She said it would hurt students academically to deal with the transition to a new school since many children have gone to Emmet – a pre-K to 8th grade school – for years.

The press conference was held during a Chicago Public Schools community hearing for Francis Scott Key Elementary School, which is one of four Austin schools slated to close later this year. But parents – other than the organizers for Emmet – did not speak at the meeting.

CPS officials say school closings were based on how well schools were used in terms of students versus number of classrooms. But Williams argued during the press conference that Emmet is Austin’s most-occupied elementary school, with 66 percent of the building full.

She added that a majority of students have been meeting state standards.

In terms of ISAT scores, about 70 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in 2012, which was down 3 percentage points from the year before. But Williams said students have been working hard over past years to help keep these scores high.

Lettrice Jamison, LSC president and parent, agreed, saying she doesn’t see why Emmet has to close, especially because of its academic scores. She said she’s afraid students will have a difficult time dealing with new teachers and students when they move to either Oscar DePriest or Duke Ellington elementary schools next year.

She urged CPS to use empty parts of the building for GED classes or other community services. Even if the building closes, she said the school should still be used by nearby place residents.

“They need to let teachers and parents having something they can use the building for,” Jamison said. “Let us decide what we should do with our building.”

Jamison has been passing around a petition to fight Emmet’s closure, which has about 65 signatures so far. She plans to present this list at Emmet’s public hearing at CPS headquarters, 125 N. Clark, April 17. She added that she’s trying to gather “a busload of people” to come out and rally against the closures at that meeting.

Dwayne Truss, an Austin resident and Raise Your Hand board member, agreed with other, and he said he doesn’t think the closures are just about building utilization. He thinks CPS is closing schools in part to bring in more charter schools to the area.

“I think we agree that brick and mortar don’t teach our children,” he said.

CPS officials have said that consolidating schools will help students get the resources they have been cheated out of at their soon-to-be closed schools.

Last month, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement that each welcoming school, such as Ellington and DePriest, will get new resources, such as a library, air conditioning in every classroom, new funds for principals to invest in student programs, upgrades for science and technology and social work services, among other things.

Truss has proposed an unofficial, alternative plan, which is being reviewed by the Austin Community Action Council. In it, he suggests what Jamison said earlier — for the building to be used for other community services. This way, the entire building would be used.

While some teachers often fear speaking out against closures, Williams said she doesn’t care and is speaking about what she thinks is fair for the children.

Williams, a tenured teacher, said she will not find out until August if she can still teach at either of the welcoming schools. But most importantly for her, Williams doesn’t want to leave what she considers another family at Emmet.

“My son … he keeps telling everyone, ‘My school is closing, but I’m not going anywhere,'” Williams said.


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